Save The Blue Heart of Europe

Major success: River Vjosa becomes National Park

Radolfzell, Vienna, Tepelena – 15 March, 2023 At a formal ceremony in Tepelena this morning and his Minister of the Environment and Tourism Mirela Kumbaro declared the River Vjosa a Wild River National Park. As from today, the entire River Vjosa in Albania from its border with Greece to the Adriatic sea and its free flowing tributaries – a river system totalling more than 400 kilometres in length – have the very highest level of protection. This is something unique in Europe.

After more than ten years of unstinting efforts working for the preservation of one of the last wild riversin Europe, EuroNatur, Riverwatch, EcoAlbania and many other conservationists and river activists are rejoicing over this great milestone. However, the river conservationists have not yet finished.

“We have fought long and hard with our partners for this day, with court hearings, petitions and discussions with those responsible in government and with local communities. Today we can celebrate,” says Annette Spangenberg, EuroNatur’s Head of Conservation.“Now we will continue campaigning for the other free-flowing tributaries and the river delta to be given protection so that the entirety of the Vjosa’s unique river eco-system can be preserved forever.”

“This Wild River National Park is not just an important milestone for the Vjosa and Albania but for river conservation across the whole of Europe. It establishes, for the first time, a conservation concept where an entire river system is protected and not just individual sections of a river,” says Ulrich Eichelmann, head of Riverwatch. “The concept of a Wild River National Park should act as a model for other rivers in Europe, such as along the Moraca in Montenegro and the Rivers Neretva and Una in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The River Vjosa is Europe’s first Wild River National Park, but it should not be the only one. Today sees an important message going out from Albania to the whole of Europe.” 

“The declaration of Vjosa Wild River National Park is the culmination of ten years of efforts by a wide group of actors. Today, with the declaration of a national park, not only the civil society but also Albania sets a new standard in nature conservation, as for the first time around 400 km of natural river flow are protected, which is a unique initiative for Europe and the world”, says Olsi Nika, Executive Director of EcoAlbania.


About the River Vjosa/Aoos: The Vjosa/Aoos River is one of the last great wild rivers in Europe outside of Russia. It flows from the mountains in Greece, where it is called Aoos, to the Adriatic Sea in Albania. Together with its tributaries, the Vjosa/Aoos forms an ecosystem with a considerable level of biodiversity of both national and global significance. Yet the region also offers economic prospects. Ecotourism along the River and its tributaries is continuously growing, particularly over the last few years when the potential for activities such as rafting has been recognised and developed.

Wild River National Park: The addition of Wild River reflects the character of the protected area. This is a national park that exclusively protects rivers and does so over a large area, i.e. entire river systems. Rivers are among the most threatened habitat types worldwide. The example of migratory fish species in Europe shows how endangered they are. Since 1970, their populations (e.g. eel, grayling, river herring, sturgeon) have declined by 94 percent, mainly as a result of river straightening and dam construction.

About Save the Blue Heart of Europe: The “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign aims to protect rivers of high natural value in the Balkans, which are threatened by more than 3,400 hydropower projects. The campaign is coordinated by the international NGOs Riverwatch and EuroNatur and implemented jointly with partner organisations in the Balkan countries. The local partner in Albania is EcoAlbania, in Greece MedINA.


The campaign is supported amongst other by the Manfred Hermsen Foundation. The outdoor company Patagonia has also strongly supported our commitment to the Vjosa National Park. Other partners that have contributed to the fight for the protection of the Vjosa/Aoos transboundary river are IUCN ECARO, Pindos Perivallontiki and The Green Tank from Greece, the Tour du Valat, Wetlands International and the MAVA Foundation for Nature.

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Major milestone is reached in work towards Vjosa Wild River National Park as the team of experts delivers Feasibility Study

The Vjosa River in Albania, one of the last wild rivers of Europe, is one major step closer to protection today as the team of Albanian and international experts working to create Vjosa Wild River National Park presented their vision, roadmap, and feasibility study to the Albanian Government.

This document provides the technical proposal for the permanent protection of the Vjosa River and its free-flowing tributaries, under IUCN Category II level standards. Following its presentation, there will be one month of public consultation with the declaration of phase I of the Vjosa Wild River National Park expected in Spring 2023.

The feasibility study is the result of six months of extensive fieldwork and in-depth analysis by a team of over 30 experts in areas such as eco-tourism, geomorphology, ecology, planning and management of protected areas, sustainable financing of national parks, legislation, and social and environmental impact assessment. Consultation with interest groups, as well as public communication, is also incorporated into the study. The team of experts involved includes local and international coordinators, plus representatives of IUCN, Patagonia and EcoAlbania.

The document focuses on the long-term protection of the ecosystem and biodiversity of the Vjosa Basin through analysis, recommendations, and proposals of models to enable environmental management, as well as the development of ‘green tourism’ and forms of sustainable agricultural development in the territories along the Vjosa and its tributaries.

Vjosa river, Tepelena (c) Besjana Guri

The experts have documented a technical proposal for the declaration of the Vjosa Wild River National Park, which will be implemented in two phases. Phase I will include the active channel of the river, plus some lands and river vegetation within the active channel, or at risk of flooding or erosion – over 400km in total length. Phase II will add areas that are flooded every 30 to 50 years and some private land, following consultation with stakeholders.

The proposal includes the development of a concept for the management structure of the park, with the aim of serving as a model for other national parks in Albania and creating a new model of river protection globally. Included is the definition of the boundary for the first phase of the National Park declaration, and the vision for its expansion in the second phase.

As a next step, the National Agency for Protected Areas (NAPA), under the auspices of the Albanian Ministry of Tourism and Environment, will conduct a series of public consultations, throughout the 12 municipalities where Vjosa and its free-flowing rivers lie, including Vlora, Tepelena and Gjirokastër. In parallel, the supporting study and the proposal for phase I of the Vjosa Wild River National Park declaration will be consulted with ministries and agencies with activities related to this area. Following these official consultations, the Ministry of Tourism and Environment will provide a detailed proposal for Phase I to the Council of Ministers, for final approval. Declaration of Phase I of Vjosa Wild River National Park, to IUCN Category II level standard, is expected in Spring 2023.


Link to the feasibility study in English and Albanian here.

 About the Vjosa River in Albania

The Vjosa River in Albania is one of the last big, wild rivers in Europe, outside of Russia. The river and its tributaries flow freely from the mountains in Greece to the Adriatic coast in Albania. This wilderness area is made up of an enormous mosaic of different habitat types, from the narrow gorges in the upper part, to the wide braided river sections in the middle part, to the near-natural delta at the Adriatic Sea. The middle stretch alone is made up of at least eight habitat types that have the highest conservation importance, at EU level.

The surrounding watershed provides the villages with fertile land for agricultural activities such as crop production and livestock farming. The abundance and diversity of fish is vital for the well-being of local fishermen, mostly in the lower part of the Vjosa. Eco-tourism on the Vjosa and its tributaries is ever-increasing, particularly in recent years as enthusiasts have started to enjoy activities such as rafting, canoeing, kayaking and swimming.


About Vjosa Wild River National Park

In June 2022, Prime Minister Edi Rama, Minister for Tourism and Environment Mirela Kumbaro, and Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert signed a memorandum of understanding which states that the Albanian Government and Patagonia will work together to upgrade the protection level of the basin and the river ecosystem of the Vjosa River and its free-flowing tributaries to the IUCN Category II Level National Park.

Involved in this work are Albanian and international NGOs from the Save the Blue Heart of Europe campaign, including EcoAlbania, RiverWatch and EuroNatur.

This is a major step closer to establishing Europe’s first-ever Wild River National Park and safeguarding one of the last undisturbed rivers of Europe, forever.




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EcoAlbania shares the experience of Vjosa Campaign with environmental CSOs in North Macedonia and Kosovo

On May 18 and 19, 2022, the next 2 forums with the theme “Vjosa Campaign – an inspiration for activism”were held in North Macedonia and Kosovo.

In cooperation with the organization EkoSvest, EcoAlbania shared its experience of the Vjosa campaign with the colleagues in Skopje. Our team focused on the work done with the media and the legal strategy followed in the case of Vjosa as a case of success and motivation for activists and organizations in the region.

Special importance was given to the tactics and continuous efforts to stop the 2 hydropower plants, of Pocem and Kalivaç, the protection of the Vjosa River and its tributaries, as well as the awareness activities or the way of transmitting messages. During the meeting, was raised also the issue of lack of cooperation between the NGO-s.

While in Kosovo, a meeting was organized with the GAIA organization to share with them the experience of the Vjosa Campaign, which appears to be involved in the campaign against the HPP in the Lepenicë River located in the Sharri National Park. During the meeting, the actions taken by Gaia and the community from the beginning of their commitment until now were discussed. Environmental law and media awareness manuals were distributed to help them further with the campaign.

This forum is part of the tour of forums organized within the project “Campaign for Vjosa – inspiration for activism” This project aims to share the experience of EcoAlbania during the last 8 years in the campaign “To save the blue heart of Europe”, with national and regional NGOs as one of the main actors in undertaking and leading campaigns for the protection of nature.

The next meeting will take place in Greece on June 15, 2022.

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EcoAlbania launched the Forum Tour “Vjosa Campaign – inspiration for activism” in the Balkans

Since its establishment in December 2014, EcoAlbania has implemented a campaign for the protection of the Vjosa River, which aims to raise public awareness of the ecological values of the Vjosa River, and protect it from plans to build HPPs.

Thanks to the experience of the last 8 years, comes with the project “Campaign for Vjosa – inspiration for activism in Albania” to share this experience with national and regional NGOs as one of the main actors in undertaking and directing nature protection campaigns. As part of the project, tour of forums was launched in neighboring countries, with which cooperation can be very strong on environmental issues that affect both sides.

The first forum took place on April 29, 2022 in Tirana at the Heinrich Böll Foundation. There where 12 participants from civil society organizations, a mix between activists, young people who aim to increase their knowledge and people who have invested years in environmental protection and biodiversity.

During the meeting was discussed about the campaign “Save the blue earth of Europe” – The case of Vjosa, explaining the steps taken by the group of partner organizations in this campaign. Olsi Nika, CEO of EcoAlbania gave a full overview of the challenges and successes of the campaign focusing in particular on media relations and the legal battle. With the participants were also shared 2 practical manuals: “Legal tools to set up a litigation strategy” and “Techniques to raise awareness through the media”, to come to their aid during their campaigns.

At the end of the activity, an open discussion was held in the form of a conversation during which questions and suggestions were made on how we can all improve together in the initiative to protect nature.

The next meetings will be organized in Montenegro, Kosovo, Northern Macedonia and Greece starting from Montenegro on May 2, 2022.

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